Natural Law and the Law of Nature in Early British Beast Literature
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CitationWang, Laura Li Ching. 2014. Natural Law and the Law of Nature in Early British Beast Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractIn the tumultuous political environment of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Britain, animal literature saw rapid development and innovation. Beast fable and epic, which already had a long tradition in Latin and French, gained new vigor and popularity in English and Scots renditions. Simultaneously, a new strain of political theory appeared in the vernacular. This dissertation makes a tripartite argument about the relationship between these two discourses. First, writers of literature and political theory alike struggled to reconcile an optimistic view of human society, inherent in the prevailing philosophical tradition of natural law, with the widespread corruption they witnessed in ecclesiastical and royal courts. The fruits of this struggle were darkly humorous works of beast epic and fable in the former case, and pragmatic political theory in the latter. Second, because of its literary character, beast literature actually proved more adventurous than political theory in demonstrating how one might use dissimulation to dominate the predatory world of politics, and in showing the moral and linguistic exhaustion that could result from such manipulation of others. Third, as political writers adapted their theories to reflect politics as it was actually practiced, they explicitly turned to beast literature for images and exempla, so that the animal characters of Aesopian fable and Reynardian epic stealthily crept into works of serious political inquiry.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11744429
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